Tuesday, March 29, 2016


                Yesterday was an odd day for me. I felt tired and drained all day. I just couldn’t seem to generate the energy to really get going. Instead, I dragged through the day in a bit of a fog. What I was experiencing is not uncommon. It is the emotional let down after some big event in life.

                I had been planning for and anticipating Holy Week for several months. Palm Sunday was a fitting beginning to that significant week. Maundy Thursday challenged us to enter into the Passover meal with Jesus and the disciples, as Jesus redefined its meaning. Good Friday was a time to reflect upon the enormous cost of our salvation, as we gathered around the cross. Easter Sunday was a glorious day of celebration of our risen Lord! Then came Easter Monday. I think the British have it right. They have made Easter Monday a national holiday; a day to reboot from Holy Week.

                We are not alone in feeling the emotional letdown after Easter. We wrongly assume that after the first Resurrection Sunday the disciples were energized, on board, and ready to press forward. But they were not. In fact for the next 40 days, Jesus continued to appear to the disciples to encourage them and to prepare them for their role as the leaders of the infant church. Even after Jesus’ ascension, it was another ten days before the Holy Spirit came in power and the church was born.

                The most telling story of the emotional letdown of the disciples is found in the Gospel of John. Peter and the others had encountered the risen Jesus for themselves. But instead of embracing this new reality, they decided to go back to their old way of life.

                Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. John 21:1-3

                The disciples were excited, at first, about the resurrection, but they had not yet connected it to their personal lives. So in the emotional letdown of the experience, they went back to what they knew best; fishing. Jesus wasn’t about to leave them there, so he came to them in the midst of their confusion and disappointment. He orchestrated a second miraculous catch of fish, just as he had done at the beginning of his ministry, when he had called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him.

                Still, Peter felt ashamed of his denial of Jesus, and unworthy to continue Jesus’ work. It was there on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus fully reinstated Peter, and commissioned him to lead the church forward. (John 21:15-22)

                I often feel as Peter did; unworthy to lead others on this essential faith journey. After the emotional high of Holy Week, my resources are drained. Instead of my spirit being buoyant, it is sagging. I feel like retreating to my workshop and making sawdust. It is at these times that Jesus comes to me and encourages me to continue to live in the new reality of the resurrection.

                Peter had to leave his nets a second time, and follow Jesus. We are all faced with the on-going challenge of leaving our nets, and following Jesus in this new reality of resurrection living.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


                For a long time I have struggled with the way we approach Holy Week. We tend to rush from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of Resurrection Sunday. In our haste to celebrate the Resurrection, we glide past the significant events that led up to Jesus’ ultimate triumph.

                Holy Week should be a time of serious reflection. There were many significant things that happened during that week. It began on a high note, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, on Sunday, to the praise of the people. It seemed to climax on Friday, with the cries of crucify him. Saturday was a day of grief and soul searching, which was dispelled on Sunday by the news that Jesus has risen from the grave.

                As you walk through this week, reflect upon all that happened as Jesus intentionally made His way to the cross.

                Luke tells us that every day Jesus held court in the Temple, teaching the people. Matthew gives us a glimpse at some of the things that Jesus taught during that time. (Matthew 21:12-25:46)
- The parable of the two sons who were both told to work in the father’s vineyard.
- The parable of the wicked tenants who refused to honor the owner of the vineyard.
- The parable of the wedding banquet where the invited guests refuse to come.
- Jesus answered challenges about paying taxes to Caesar and about the resurrection.
- Jesus offered the Great Commandment.
- Jesus issued His seven woes to the Scribes and the Pharisees.
- Jesus taught about the signs of the end times.
- Jesus told the parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats.

                It was on Wednesday of that week that the religious leaders solidified their plan to get rid of Jesus. They enlisted Judas to betray Jesus, for a price. ( Matt. 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:3-6)

                On Thursday, Jesus gathered with His disciples in the upper room to celebrate the Passover. It was during that meal that Jesus revealed that one of the disciples would betray Him and that all of the disciples would abandon Him. ((Matt. 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22:7-20, John 13:1-38)

                Later that night, Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray about His impending death. Sometime during the night, Judas led a cohort of soldiers and religious leaders to the garden to arrest Jesus. (Matt. 26:36-56, Mark 14:32-52, Luke 22:40-53, John 18:2-11)

                Early Friday morning, Jesus was put on trial before the Sanhedrin. He was condemned by them, then forcefully taken to Pontius Pilate. There Jesus was ridiculed and put on display. Pilate tried to free Jesus, but ultimately gave in to the demands of the crowd, as the cries of “crucify him” rang in his ears. During that time Peter denied Jesus three times and Judas, overcome with remorse, hung himself. (Matt. 26:57-27:31, Mark 14:53-15:15, Luke 22:54-23:25, John 18:12-19:16)

                Friday morning Jesus was led to Golgotha to be crucified with two criminals. At noon, the sun went dark and a pall of fear descended over Jerusalem. Later in the afternoon, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and then died. At that moment, the curtain in the Temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. They wrapped Jesus in linens and laid Him in Joseph’s new tomb. A massive stone was rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb. The religious leaders arranged to have a guard posted at the tomb, so that no one could take the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. (Matt. 27:32-66, Mark 15:16-47, Luke 23:26-56, John 19:17-42)

                The disciples spent Saturday, the Sabbath, gathered in the upper room, hiding from the religious leaders. Their hearts were rung with grief, guilt and confusion. It was the darkest Sabbath of their lives.

                We can never fully appreciate the resurrection of Jesus, until we honestly examine the path that He took to get there. It was indeed a path of sorrow and grief, but it was a price Jesus willingly paid for us.

Isaiah 53:1-12
    Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
    He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
    He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
    He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
    Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
    We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
    By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants?
    For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
    He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
    After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
    Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Philippians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Thursday, March 17, 2016


                In my office hangs a large copy of the popular poster “Keep Calm and Carry On.” This poster has an interesting origin. It was the third in a series of morale boosting posters developed by the Ministry of Information at the outbreak of WWII. The first two posters were used extensively. The third, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” was to be used after the anticipated German invasion of England. That invasion never happened, so the posters were never used.

                Nearly 60 years later, a bookseller for Barter Books stumbled upon a copy of this poster. Since then “Keep Calm and Carry On” has taken on a life of its own. The sentiment of this rather straight forward poster has resonated with many people. Today there are multiple variations of this simple idea.

                Although we are not living under the threat of an invasion by a foreign army, we are living in tumultuous times. We are faced with the threat of radical Islam, coupled with the continued marginalization of Christianity. Our political system is in disarray. Our economy, although growing, is still unstable and unsettled. There are many things that can cause us to become fearful and lose our perspective.

                As followers of Christ, the call to keep calm and carry on should send us to the Savior. In fact, although the Bible doesn’t use the phrase, the theme of keep calm and carry on is prominent in scripture. It is truly a call to put our trust in God and follow His lead.

                In our world today, it is so easy to get caught up in all the turmoil and conflict and to lose hope. Yet Jesus assures us that our hope is secure in Him. In John 16, Jesus assured His disciples, and us, that we are secure in Him. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

                In times like this, it is easy to let anxiety and worry take over our lives. Satan would love to inflame our anxiety into panic. Panic is the worst possible response to a difficult situation. Instead of letting our anxiety build, we can take it to Jesus. Paul assures us that if we bring our anxiety to Jesus, He will replace it with His peace. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

                The thing that Satan wants to do right now is immobilize us. If he can fill our lives with anxiety, get our eyes off of Jesus and onto the turmoil of our world, and isolate us out of fear, then he can effectively neutralize our witness in the world. Fear and panic most often causes us to close down. We go into survival mode, by shutting out the rest of the world. Instead of engaging our world in meaningful ways, we hide from our world, and cast stones at it from a distance.

                God wants us to keep clam and carry on. Instead of shutting out the world, God wants us to engage our world in His power. We are not powerless to face the challenges around us. We have all the resources we need. We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

                In the face of the challenges in our world, instead of shrinking back, we need to press forward. The Kingdom of God will prevail. Jesus has already won the victory by His death and resurrection. We have been called to press that victory forward. Even the very gates of hell cannot prevail against the power of the Gospel. So in the name of Jesus I challenge you to keep calm and carry on!
Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


                The rains have come early to southern Minnesota this year. In many ways, this is a blessing. This could all be snow, and we could be doing quite a bit of shoveling. The rain brings the hope of an early spring season. It also prepares the ground for spring planting. With the rain comes a spirit of optimism.

                But there is another side to this blessing. Spring rains are messy. As the ground thaws, it becomes soft and mushy. Solid ground is replaced by mud. The early rains also tempt people to get out in the garden or the yard too soon. They falsely assume that it is time to start all of the spring outdoor activities. Yet, alas, it is only an illusion. The temperatures will fall below freezing again. The ground is not yet warm enough to germinate seeds. The ground is really too soft to be mowing the emerging, green grass.

                These early rains remind me of the messiness of  ministry. Ministry is fostered by optimism, enthusiasm, and the promise of good things to come. But before we see the harvest, we have to deal with the messiness. Ministry gets us excited and then tests our patience. Ministry plans look great on paper, but are far more difficult in application. Ministry fills us with the hope of a goal accomplished, then faces us with the sometimes frustrating task of getting there. Bottom line, ministry is messy. We have to deal with the mud, before we can rejoice in the harvest.

                Ministry is cooperating with God to accomplish His goals. When we forget that, we open ourselves up for much frustration. The church at Corinth lost sight of that and needed to be brought back on course. Look at what Paul wrote to them.
    Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
    What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 1 Cor. 3:1-9

                Genuine ministry is a team effort. It takes cooperation with others who have different gifts and talents then we do. That alone can sometimes cause frustration. It also takes a huge amount of humility. Ministry requires that I set aside my personal ambitions and agenda to accomplish God’s purposes.

                But, ministry also takes an extreme amount of patience. We tend to be an impatient people. If we do not see results almost immediately, we are ready to scrap the plan and try something else. If farmers took that approach, we would never eat. Ministry is about planting spiritual seeds, watering them, cultivating them, and giving them time to grow. When we get impatient, we hinder the growth that God is orchestrating. Paul challenged the Galatian believers to not get frustrated and give up.
    Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10

                Finally, we need to remember that we are all works in process. Like the Pharisees, we can fall into the trap of expecting everyone to be at the same level of spiritual maturity that we are. That is an utterly false perspective. Spiritual maturity takes time. Along the way, people are going to make mistakes, sometimes pretty messy mistakes. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, we need to be ready to help clean up the mess and help people move forward. We need to constantly be reminded that it took time and effort to get us to the place where we are, and that we all still have a long way to go. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, we were not all that great when we started our spiritual journey.
    Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Cor. 1:26-31

                The rains have come, and with them the mud. But very soon, the ground will firm up, the plants and trees will turn green, and in due time the harvest will come. In the midst of doing ministry, it often feels like there is more mud than solid ground. But in due time, the harvest will come, if we faithfully persevere.

Philippians 1:3-6
    I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016


                As I prepared for worship on Sunday, I knew that attendance would be down, because of Spring Break. I also knew that we would be operating with a minimal crew to lead the worship service. Normally, these two things would have caused me to come to worship expecting a down Sunday, not just in attendance, but in energy and enthusiasm. Instead, I came anticipating an awesome encounter with God. Coming off of an amazing worship experience one week before, I desired to continue that positive approach. I was not disappointed.

                Reading Experiential Worship has been a positive challenge to me. At the very beginning of the book, the author makes the point that those of us who lead in worship set the tone for the experience that people will have. If we come expecting to encounter God ourselves, others will join us. There will always be some who don’t get it, but the majority will follow the lead of those who are up front. I believe that happened this past Sunday.

                Many times we come to worship less than prepared to encounter God. We may come out of duty, obligation, or just habit. We drag in, tired and worn thin from the week. Sometimes we collapse in our seats and become pure spectators. Our experience is dull and boring and leaves us flat. But if we would come to worship with a sense of anticipation, we would have a totally different experience. How we come to worship is a conscious choice on our part.

                King David fostered the proper attitude for coming to worship in Psalm 122:1. I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord." David recognized that going to worship was both a privilege and a delight. There were so many things that weighed David down, so many things that discouraged him. But David saw going to worship as an opportunity to be refreshed and renewed.

                The Apostle Paul picked up on the concept of “our attitude matters” in Philippians 4:4-7. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. To the Thessalonians he wrote:  Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
                In both of these passages, Paul is challenging us to adjust our attitude up. Of all people, Paul never took lightly the struggles of life, yet he chose to rejoice in the Lord. He chose to rejoice, not in spite of his circumstances, but in the midst of them. He rejoiced in the Lord’s grace, compassion, and care. This was fueled by an unwavering trust in the goodness of God. He was able to overcome unbelievable circumstances because he kept his eyes on Jesus.

                Out of Paul’s God-focused attitude, he was able to write some of the most challenging and encouraging words to us as we struggle with the circumstances of our lives.   
                But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
                 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians  4:7-9,16-18)

                Our attitude doesn’t just shape how we come to worship. It shapes everything that we do. Our perception of our daily world is dictated by what we expect of our daily world. And the image that we portray to our world clearly reflects the attitude of our hearts, even when we try to fake it.